Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Retrobox.com: green riches in the muck and junk of the digital age

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 14, 2005

. . .and a call for an environmental tax credit

By Tom Foremski and Nick Aster for SiliconValleyWatcher

Corbin.jpgBloggers have to eat, and if it is possible to combine good food with good conversation, so much the better. Which is why my colleague Nick Aster and I headed over to the Town Hall on Tuesday for lunch with Stampp Corbin, CEO and co-founder of Retrobox.com, a very ambitious and profitable computer recycling company.

There is money to be made in handlng the muck and junk of the digital age, and Mr Corbin is happy to spread the word because his company has a business model that works incredibly well.

But it is not just about finding a safe way to dump a computer monitor (8lbs of toxic materials in each) it is also about data security, creating an asset trail, and the regulatory compliance demanded in various industries.

"Data security is a big deal and one that some companies forget," says Mr Corbin. "Fortune 1000 companies will spend tens of milions of dollars on firewalls to protect a server - and the next day that server is replaced and sold on Ebay along with its now unprotected data."

Wiping data is one part of the business model; reselling the equipment is another. "We resell, reuse as much equipment as we can, we get 50,000 hits per day on our site without advertising, and we give back 75 percent of the revenues to our clients. Often, we will hand back a check for more than it cost the company to contract our services."

Business has been good, but it could be even better if the government steps in and gives an extra incentive through an environmental tax credit.

"I used to sell IBM mainframes and if you bought a $2m mainframe, you got 10 percent back, that was $200k because of the investment tax credit available. That was a powerful boost to the the tech sector. We need something like that for companies that are responsible in disposing of their computer waste," Mr Corbin says.

Mr Corbin is strongly opposed to the advanced recovery fee system, which would mandate a user paid fee of about $10 per monitor collected by state government. The money would be then doled out to "collectors" - companies authorized to dispose of the equipment.

"This is a very inefficient system, lots of government bureaucracy. It is much better to use a tax credit to encourage proper disposal of equipment."

Mr Corbin says he hopes to persuade lawmakers and others in the tech industry to support an environmental tax credit for digital-age junk rather than waste money administering a new bureaucratic empire.

Rising above the babble through blogging

It makes sense, but getting the message out is a problem. Mr Corbin explains that the cost equipment recycling comes out of the IT budget - but IT decision makers are swamped in marketing babble from tech-sector sales people.

I mentioned that blogs, as long as they are producing something of value, can cut through that noise. It can be the most effective form of self-promotion bar none, if it is done right. And we'd be glad to offer some simple guidelines to get him started.

Also, we want to point to thought leaders such as Stampp Corbin to encourage others to join him. There is green ($), and lots of it, in green business activities.


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[Retrobox.com is an example of innovation through a technology-enabled business model. This is something we pay close attention to because it is part of what we call the new rules economy that we believe will dominate this internet 2.0 phase that is emerging. Retrobox.com has many characteristics of a new rules enterprise: It is private; it has a technology-enabled business model; it is a thought leader in its space; it understands the most efficient business processes in its sector; and it has avoided venture capital money to fund its growth. The private investment money it has received was to reward Mr Corbin and his business partners - it was money taken off the table without the need to IPO.]

SiliconValleyWatcher: These are the new dotcoms of the new rules economy...

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